I present here, for free use by anyone without royalties or acknowledgement a style guide for journalists reporting road traffic incidents, with a special focus on those incidents which include one or more cyclists.
- ‘Accident.‘ ‘Accident’ is a word which is best avoided unless used in a court ruling. Whilst many deaths and injuries resulting from traffic collisions are not malicious and the term ‘accident’ may appear to be a useful term for conveying this, it implies a lack of blame which may not yet have been tested in court. A traffic collision may be the result of negligence on the part of one or more parties which, whilst not necessarily malicious, can not be accurately described as an ‘accident.’
- ‘Collided with.’ The term ‘collided with’ is perfectly acceptable when describing an incident involving a vehicle and a stationary object, for example, ‘motorist collides with house.’ ‘Car collides with house’ is less appropriate as it implies that the collision was caused by the car rather than its driver. Where the phrase ‘collided with’ becomes unacceptable is when describing a collision where the party at fault is not yet known. Oddly this is particularly common when reporting collisions involving cyclists and motorists, with terms such as ‘cyclist collides with car’ being particularly common for cyclist-motorist collisions despite the language suggesting either a cyclist colliding with an empty, stationary car or a motorist-cyclist collision which was the fault of the cyclist. To retain neutrality, phrasing such as ‘a vehicle collision between a motorist and a cyclist’ is preferred.
- ‘Who was not wearing a helmet.‘ This phrase is never acceptable when referring to a cyclist involved in a collision. There are two main reasons for this, firstly it implies that the cyclist is at fault for the injuries they sustained for not using an optional item of personal protective equipment at a time when the party responsible for the collision is unlikely to be known for certain (in motorist-cyclist collisions it is unlikely that the cyclist was even partially at fault). Secondly, the protective benefits offered by cycle helmets to their wearers in the even of a collision involving a motor vehicle are effectively non-existent. Prominently referring the a cyclists choice not to wear a cycle helmet in a report on a collision in which they were involved suggests that cycle helmets offer a level of protection significantly greater than in reality. Where the cyclist was injured or killed as a result of the collision, this use of language is particularly disrespectful and inappropriate.
- ‘The road was closed for x hours.’ When reporting an incident in which one party was seriously injured or killed, it is importance to give this fact greater prominence than the fact that the road on which the incident occurred was closed for a period of time as a result. Giving greater prominence to the inconvenience of some road users than the death or potentially life-changing injury of an individual involved in a traffic collision is extremely callous and should be avoided.
Any other aspects of crash reporting get on your nerves? Leave a comment and I’ll add the best ones to the list.